America has long made a virtue of confusing her aspirations with her reality. Such optimism is a permanent part of our national character; and while it has its rewards, we have paid a hefty price for it when it comes to matters of race.
In slightly less than one month from today we will pay that price again as all eyes turn to the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will question the Appeals court judge about her judicial philosophy, her record, and most notably her “controversial” comments about race and identity. It is sure to be a show, the price of which will hardly justify the cost.
Continued resistance to Sotomayor has widened pre-existing racial schisms thought to have dissipated during the Obama campaign and created new political ones unthinkable just a decade ago. Conservatives Newt Gingrich, Tom Tancredo, and Rush Limbaugh have vehemently denounced the Obama nominee, calling her comments during a 2001 lecture at Berkeley racist likening her political affiliations to the Klan.
However, Sotomayor’s mistake was not in pointing out the infallible truth that all people, no less judges, bring their experiences to bear in their interpretation of the law. Rather her mistake was being a racially conscious Latino female during an era where the struggle for a post-racist America has become conveniently (and inexplicably) replaced by the idea of a post-racial one.
The unconscionable irony that currently confronts America is that racial politics in the age of Obama is in some ways unable to accommodate the Eric Holders and Sonia Sotomayors.
These two, and others like them, have apparently forgotten that the cross to bear for minorities filling positions historically held by white men includes _not _reminding the public they are in fact not white men. By not reminding us of that, they have the opportunity to “transcend” race. A goal, I hear, is worthy of aspiration.
For many, the election of the first African-American president seemed to substantiate the belief that the end of perceived racism will come as a consequence of people not talking about race; a particularly dangerous position to adopt at a time when certain minority groups, while enjoying broad social relevance worldwide, are in fact devolving politically and economically in spite of a collective euphoria over Obama.
Neither a democracy nor a constitutional republic should require people to erase themselves in order to participate in the highest levels of citizenship.
Sotomayor will be confirmed, however the damage will have been done. The precedent set by the reaction to her comments will discourage honest dialogue about race and reinforce the notion that the struggle for racial equality is over.
Despite evidence that the opposite is needed, the subtle demand for deracialization has begun long before the fight against racism in America ever ended.